Divan, you are one comfy Turkish delight

Author: Share:

By Jane Bartnett

Here’s a summer travel tip, of sorts: Thanks to Gulf Gate’s eclectic business district, international destinations continue to be found in our own back yard.

So, drop in at Divan, the new Turkish restaurant on Superior Avenue, and discover the wonders of Turkish cuisine. Spending a few hours in this intimate dining spot is almost like taking a trip to Istanbul.
Ugur Sariyar is the owner and the restaurant’s chef. “We make everything fresh and from scratch,” he told me on a recent visit. “The hummus, the baba ganoush, the shakshuka — a traditional Mediterranean dish created from eggplant, tomato sauce, green peppers, onion and garlic — and much more,” he said.
As we sat in a comfortable booth with a colorful mural of the city of Istanbul behind us, a steady flow of diners filed in for a late lunch. After opening in March, the restaurant has gained a strong following.
Colorful Turkish stained-glass chandeliers hang from the ceiling and create a warm glow. “My parents brought the lights from Turkey,” Sariyar said with pride. “Come and meet them,” he added as he brought me into the busy kitchen.

Ugur Sariyar and his parents in the Divan kitchen. (photo by Jane Bartnett)

The pair smiled and said hello as they went to work preparing classic Turkish dishes. As we continued our conversation, I learned more about this exotic land and its cuisine.
“I want this to be a comfortable place where people enjoy visiting,” said the young restaurateur. Khalida Sariyar, Ugur’s wife, told me the definition of the word “divan” is couch or sofa. Her husband named the restaurant Divan, she said, to imply a welcoming and inviting place.
Having never experienced Turkish cuisine, I did a bit of research before my visit. Culinary experts agree that Turkish food is at the heart of Mediterranean cuisine. The dishes of this place where Europe, the Middle East and Asia meet tell a fascinating story of a people and a rich agricultural history. The food, Sariyar explained, reflects the bounty of a country where spices, fresh vegetables and natural oils are a part of everyday dishes.
“We make our own seasonings from zaatar, a curry-like mix of seasonings, rosemary, as well as oregano and thyme,” he said. “Everything here is fresh. Olive oil is used in everything. It’s the Mediterranean influence.”
When I told him that he was talking to someone who never cooks, he laughed and said “OK, everything is my own interpretation. It’s Mediterranean, but more Americanized.”

The restaurant’s interior includes a large depiction of Istanbul. (photo by Jane Bartnett)

Sariyar’s own interpretation of classic Turkish and Mediterranean dishes reflects his training as a chef. After studying the culinary arts at Istanbul Arel University, he went on to hone his craft at Istanbul restaurants. “I also spent time in Bolu,” he said. “That is a place that is famous for its chefs.”
After settling in the New York City area, in 2017 Sariyar opened a popular and successful Turkish restaurant called Pasha Mezzo Grill in the northern New Jersey suburb of Parsippany.
“We made it through COVID with a lot of take-out,” he said.
In 2021, he made the decision to close the restaurant and on a visit to Sarasota he discovered our island. “I was drawn to Siesta Key,” he said.
When restaurant space became available in Gulf Gate, he decided that the Siesta Key region would be a good place to open a new restaurant. “I also met my wife here,” he said.
The couple married a few weeks after Divan’s opening and Khalida now works with her husband in the restaurant.
“Yes,” he said happily, “it’s been a lot of things happening at once, but it’s all good.”
Before my visit with the chef, I had lunch at Divan with friends. We enjoyed a selection of “mezze” (appetizer) dishes that included a sampling plate of tzatziki (grape leaves stuffed with rice), humus, baba ganoush, and a falafel wrap. On our next visit, we’ll try the traditional Turkish baklava, imported from Turkey. “There are 72 layers in each baklava and they are delicious,” Sariyar noted.
Other tempting pastries and sweets are also on the menu.
A selection of red and white Turkish wine along with beer, soft drinks, Turkish and American coffee and tea is available. Diners can choose to sit at tables, booths, or at the restaurant’s small bar. Boxed Turkish candy, coffees and other treats are sold at the front of the restaurant.
After visiting Divan, I wanted to learn more about this exotic place that is steeped in history. I discovered a great way to take an armchair tour: order a copy of Lonely Planet Istanbul, by a wonderful writer and leading expert on the region named Tom Brosnahan. Find the book on Amazon.
Divan Turkish Cuisine is open for lunch and dinner at 6525 Superior Ave. For hours and reservations, visit divanturkishcuisine.com or call (941) 924-3030.

Divan is located at 6525 Superior Ave. in Gulf Gate. (photo by Jane Bartnett)
Jane Bartnett
Author: Jane Bartnett

Previous Article

Parallel parking surprises neighbors

Next Article

$1 million set aside for Midnight Pass